In the following passage from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Cbhosky, "english" isn't capitalized:

There is this one girl in my advanced english class named Susan. In middle school, Susan was very funny to be around. She liked movies, and her brother Frank made her tapes of this great music that she shared with us.

As far as I know, English is written with a capital E except for the billiards move. In this book, however, it is consistently written in lower case. That doesn't quite fit the main character's personality, but it still could be intentional (the author is trying to mimic teen speech).

Is this a mistake, or is there any reason why advanced english class shouldn't be written with a capital E?

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    Yes, it would ordinarily be capitalized here. Whether it's a mistake or intentional is hard to tell (I've never read the book myself). It's also possible that it was the editor's decision, although I find that very unlikely.
    – Era
    Apr 14, 2016 at 14:45
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    @Era: Looking at the first page of results for in my advanced english class, I see OP's specific citation is the only one with no capitals. There are 7 others that capitalize just English (the bare minimum to qualify as "orthographically valid"), and a couple that also capitalize Advanced (a perfectly acceptable variant for this context). I don't buy author trying to mimic teen speech (it's writing, not speech), and Charlie is supposed to be intelligent, so I think it's just a meaningless lapse. Apr 14, 2016 at 15:09

1 Answer 1


You are right. English, when referring to language, the people, or the country, would always be conventionally capitalized. The text does use conventional capitalization for the first word of sentences, the pronoun I, for names of other people and places, and so on, so the non-capitalization of English stands out as unusual.

The book is written in an epistolary format, a style which is more conversational than narrative, and which therefore may dispense with strict adherence to conventions of grammar, usage, or orthography. In such a style, one might not capitalize English as the name of a class, advanced english class being parallel to math class or gym class in the American vernacular.

On the other hand, English is lowercase only in its first few appearances. Later, he writes

He really likes teaching kids English and thinks maybe he can take over the drama department, too, next year.

Bill gave me my first B in advanced English class for my paper on Peter Pan!

This makes it hard to know whether the inconsistent capitalization is intentional— perhaps to indicate more careful writing as the author matures, or that adolescents are not attentive to orthographic matters— or whether it is an editorial or typographical error. Both French fries and french fries are used, for comparison, but instances of Chinese, Greek, and Indian are capitalized throughout.

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    I think it must be a hint at the fact he's maturing. The word English appears a total of 9 times. The first 6 aren't capitalized, and the last 3 are. The same is true for at least two online editions and a printed one, and the fact his writing skills are improving is made explicit more than once, so that seems plausible.
    – Yay
    Apr 14, 2016 at 15:30
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    @Yay It seems reasonable to me. For a much more dramatic shift in first-person writing, try the 1966 novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
    – choster
    Apr 14, 2016 at 16:24
  • An epistolary format would be the one of the few reasons an author might make this "mistake" on purpose. Great answer.
    – J.R.
    Apr 14, 2016 at 18:30
  • +1 and great answer. and probably the correct one. in addition, however, @Yay, writers, especially of novels, poems, memoirs, are not bound to follow any "rules". Consider the great poet E. E. Cummings. Apr 14, 2016 at 19:03

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